Smyth’s career as a rowing coach on the upswing Down Under

John Browne
Published on August 6, 2014
John Smyth
Submitted photo

John Smyth’s love of coaching in rowing has led him to a new life in Australia.

Smyth has had a long and varied relationship with the sport.

He rowed for St. Bon’s, Pizza Hut, Academy Canada, Exit Realty and The Independent in the Royal St. John’s Regatta over the years. The 32-year old St. John’s native also rowed sliding seat as a 17 year-old in 1999 under coach Paul Power and went on to compete for the province at the 2001 Canada Summer Games in London, Ont.

Smyth’s sliding-seat career following the Canada Games consisted of a competing at Atlantic regattas, the Canada Cup in Montreal, the Canadian Henley regatta and the national university rowing championships.

“In the midst of all this rowing, I was also starting to develop a love of coaching,” said Smyth, who began mentoring high school rowers in 2000.

He both coached and rowed in 2007, also graduating  from Memorial University  that year. In 2008, he was asked to take on the role of provincial rowing coach.

Later, he got the opportunity to visit former Academy Canada crewmate Jeremy Ivey, who was coaching at the United States Rowing High Performance Centre in Oklahoma City.

“(Ivey) was working with national team coaches, developing future Olympians and coaching rowers headed to the under-23 worlds,” said Smyth. “I spent a week with elite rowers and my confidence grew. That fall, I continued to coach at St. John’s Rowing Club and travelled to the Head of the Hooch (a huge rowing regatta in Chattanooga, Tenn.) for a second year in row.”

During his last three years in St. John’s, Smyth taught physical education on one-year contracts at Bishops College, Holy Spirit High School and Prince of Wales Collegiate.

In 2010, he decided to put his teaching job on hold and began searching for a career in rowing.

“I applied for about 20 positions and was offered employment in North Carolina and California, but salary and visa issues were roadblocks in both cases,” he explained.

A friend who had recently moved to the United Kingdom for work then suggested he search overseas for coaching work.  So he visited Rowing Australia’s website, where he found a job listing an opening for head of rowing at the Rockhampton Grammar School in Queensland.

He applied and in December of 2010,  got the job.

Smyth said while this meant moving to a new country on the other side of the world, the transition went smoothy.

He admitted the first few days rowing in Australia were “a bit surreal.”

However, he added that rowing on an Aussie river and rowing a boat on Quidi Vidi Lake in St. John’s is “fundamentally the same.”

Smyth said he talks to his students all the time about fixed-seat rowing.

“I try to describe it, but I think my words don't do it justice,” he said.

The other obvious difference is that there’s an opportunity to row year-round in Australia. The school rows for 11 months and takes a break from mid-December to mid-January.

What’s not to like about that situation?

Smyth agrees and he’s recently applied for permanent residency in Australia.


Brownie points

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